As the COP 28 climate summit entered its final negotiations, Graham Stuart, the U.K.’s minister of state for energy security and net zero, flew the 3,400 miles back to London from Dubai for a critical vote in parliament on immigration. Then, he turned around and flew back to the United Arab Emirates.
Stuart’s absurd round trip is an almost too perfect encapsulation of the U.K. government’s attitude toward the climate crisis. Once seen as a global leader on climate, the U.K. has lurched rightwards under its Conservative government, which has watered down climate targets, launched a “pro-motorist” campaign against cyclists, and passed draconian laws limiting the right to protest in response to direct action from climate activists.
What’s now known as climate populism is on the rise across Western democracies. In the Netherlands, far-right leader Geert Wilders, whose PVV party won the largest share of the vote in elections in November, made hostility to carbon emission targets a significant part of his platform. Populist parties in the Nordic countries have flirted with climate denialism. In the U.S., Republicans are lining up to attack President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, an enormous package of green stimuli that GOP presidential primary candidate Nikki Haley has called “a communist manifesto filled with tax hikes and green subsidies that benefit China and make America more dependent on Beijing.” On the more lunatic fringes, conspiracy theorists have tied climate measures to the racist “Great Replacement” theory.
These populists are exploiting real tensions within the green transition away from fossil fuels. The shift to new models of production and consumption is reopening old conflicts around land, culture, identity and colonialism. Over the past year, Coda Story has worked to understand the compromises and complexities of addressing climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental health, looking at how power, wealth and geopolitics are restructuring the global economy and changing our daily reality on the ground, worldwide.
1. For more than a century, Kiruna, in northern Sweden, has been the capital city of the country’s “land of the future.” Its iron mines fueled the Industrial Revolution, its plains and waterways play host to windfarms and hydroelectric dams. The discovery of rare earths, vital for the electric vehicle industry, have once again placed it on the economic frontier, promising to power Europe’s transition to green energy. But environmentalists and Indigenous groups told Coda’s Isobel Cockerell that the industry behind the green transition is trying to fix the climate in precisely the same way it was destroyed.
2. China dominates the global green tech industry. It makes more batteries, wind turbines and solar panels than any other country in the world. Right now, any green transition will necessarily rely on China, where forced labor and human rights violations targeting ethnic Uyghurs figure prominently in the supply chain. Coda contributor Nithin Coca captured these tensions in a recent piece exploring how these abuses have given conservative politicians a near-perfect reason not to invest in solar energy.
3. Rewilding is an effective, if controversial, tool for rebuilding ecosystems. In the U.K. and Germany, many efforts are tied to ultra-wealthy or hereditary landowners. This past summer, Coda’s Isobel Cockerell got to know a community of unregulated “beaver bombers” who are trying to reintroduce the species at the grassroots level.
4. Populist opposition to climate action in the U.S. often focuses on the idea of lost jobs, bureaucratic red tape and the dismantling of old industries. But in Colorado, the need for silver for high tech industries, including clean energy, is prompting the reopening of long-dormant mines. Contributing writer Sarah Scoles brought us an in-depth look at the anticipated resurgence of the industry, straight from one of Colorado’s oldest silver mines.
5. Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine was poised to be a key player in the global transition to green technology. But as Russia has seized territory in Ukraine’s east and south, the future of the country’s critical raw materials has been thrown into question. Amanda Coakley brought us the story from the ground in Ukraine this past spring.
6. Pollution isn’t confined to the Earth. The number of satellites around the planet has increased sevenfold since 2009, as demand for communications and imaging explodes worldwide. In another immersive feature for Coda, Sarah Scoles showed us how these dynamics have turned Earth’s orbit into a crowded, complex place where accidents are increasingly common, creating a new pollution issue — space trash caused by collision debris.